Survey shows extent of female dropout risk

A new survey shows significant levels of concern among women of all ages that they might have to drop out of the workplace due to the menopause.

Over 50s


Nearly a third of UK women [29%] expect to leave work before retirement, with 42% expecting this to be due to health or well-being and another fifth specifically citing menopause, according to a new survey.

The findings come from a new British Standards Institution report entitled Lifting the Second Glass Ceiling, which explores why some women leave the workforce early for reasons other than personal choice. The BSI has recently launched guidance for employers on the menopause and menstruation.

The findings show that concern about the menopause is highest among 45 to 54 year olds [31%], but significant among younger women at 28% for 35 to 44 year olds, 23% for 25 to 34 year olds and 21% for 18 to 24 year olds.

The survey of over 1,000 woman also finds three fifths of women feel they would feel uncomfortable bringing up health and wellbeing issues with a male manager.

Barriers to remaining in work include caring responsibilities [cited by 21%], lack of flexibility [cited by 18%], lack of progression opportunities [cited by 18%] and lack of pay parity [cited by 12%].

The research also finds that 75% of UK women want employers to take action to retain older women in the workforce, while 71% would like politicians to drive this change.

The report by BSI outlines the economic and social benefits that could be realised by lifting the Second Glass Ceiling whereby women leave the workforce early and for reasons other than for personal preference.

Anne Hayes, Director of Sectors, BSI, said: “Addressing the Second Glass Ceiling (SGC) can offer many benefits, from enhancing productivity to ensuring organisations retain talented people and providing mentors who can draw on their experience to guide newer members of staff.

“As our research shows, there are many factors that can lock women out of the workforce – but there are also clear strategies to address this, from support for workers experiencing the menopause to steps in other areas such as working flexibly and breaking down stigma that could contribute to an enhanced work environment for all. Rather than see the considerations facing older women as a challenge, we can gain by seeing this as an opportunity for investment in current and future generations and an opportunity to boost growth, innovation and accelerate progress towards a sustainable world.”

More than two thirds of the women surveyed by the BSI say experienced female mentors can benefit the development of younger women (67%), yet less than half (46%) have had the opportunity to learn from them themselves, and a third say it remains uncommon to see women in leadership positions. Given that 72% of women are comfortable raising menopause with a female employer, but far fewer with a male manager, having more female leaders could be central to overcoming a key barrier to women remaining in work in the UK.

In May, BSI published the Menstruation, menstrual health, and menopause in the workplace standard (BS 30416), setting out practical recommendations for workplace adjustments, such as the appointment of workplace menstruation and menopause advocates. 74% of UK women say they believe employers have a role in offering women support around issues such as menopause, and 76% would welcome greater flexibility to manage associated challenges, yet at present, only 4% of UK women are aware of formal policies in their organisation to do so.

In a sign of optimism for the future, younger women (65% of 25–34-year-olds compared with 45% over 55) were more optimistic that the Second Glass Ceiling could be lifted, saying that they believe that their generation will receive the flexibility and support needed to stay in the workforce as long as their male colleagues. 63% believe the next generation will receive the flexibility and support needed to stay productive in the workforce for as long as men.

The report makes a series of recommendations to lift the Second Glass Ceiling, including:

– Recognise the benefits of lifting the second glass ceiling. Rather than see this as a challenge, organisations can approach it as an opportunity to boost growth, innovation and accelerate progress towards a sustainable world.

– Open the dialogue – ask women what they want – uncovering solutions that can reverse the trends and enable more women to thrive throughout their professional lives.

– Ensure support is available and accessible, whether around menopause or other considerations

– See flexibility as an asset and recognise that small adjustments where possible can help ensure an accommodating workplace

– Institute a broader culture of care – prioritise people by promoting individual needs

– Share best practice – collaboration across organizations, sectors and countries can drive progress.

The research follows best practice guidance published by BSI last year around creating an age-inclusive workforce.

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